No tax talk, please, say charter reviewers

By Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News

May 11, 2007

PORT ANGELES, WA- The Clallam County Charter Review Commission wants more opinions from more people - but not on all topics, thank you.

While commissioners can't outright refuse to listen to any idea, they'd rather not hear about requiring referendums on new taxes.

That's probably all right because most taxes are immune from referendums, thanks to state law.

Commissioners on Monday still wrangled, though, over including the topic on a list of questions they'll pose to citizens at the commission's next three meetings.

In the end, they decided to exclude this query from the opinion-provoking questions they'd like people to answer:

"Should the Charter Review Commission consider an amendment to require a vote of the people on any NEW taxes?"

Commissioner David Cummins explained "new" as "something that's never been taxed before.

"I'm looking at special programs, new programs," he said.

About a year ago, Cummins unsuccessfully challenged the county's newest tax increase, a one-tenth of 1 percent boost in the sales tax to fund new mental health and drug dependency programs.

Question is stricken
Commissioner Norma Turner accused Cummins of trying to strangle new ideas.

"You want to tie the hands of the [county] commissioners," she said.

Turner soon moved that the question be stricken from a list that will be circulated to Clallam County media, civic groups and service clubs.

The Clallam County Charter - which the 15 elected commissioners are inspecting with an eye to changes - presently forbids referendums on taxes and capital spending.

Furthermore, state law also protects taxes the state Legislature authorizes county commissioners to enact, said Mark Nichols, deputy prosecuting attorney.

Cummins maintained, however, "What people are looking for is the opportunity to have a vote on a tax."

Nevertheless, charter commissioners voted 10 to 3 to delete the tax question.

Voting in the majority were Sue Erzen, Jim Pickett, Ken Wiersema, John Miller, Patti Morris, Terry Roth, Mickie Vail, Kris Grier, Tom Shindler and Turner.

Voting to keep the question were Sue Forde, Randy Simmons and Cummins.

Charter Commissioners Patti Adler and Rod Fleck were absent.

Other queries survive
Questions that survived the process include:

  • Should the Clallam County Charter allow (not mandate) instant runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting?

  • Should the charter limit campaign contributions and spending in county races?

  • Is the current system of three elected county commissioners and an administrator whom they appoint adequate for the next 10 years? If not, how could it be improved?

  • Should a Charter Review Commission be chosen again in 2012 and every eight years thereafter, corresponding with presidential elections? Currently, the charter calls for reviewers to be elected every five years.

  • Should fewer signatures be needed to repeal the charter?

  • Should charter review commissioners revise the language of initiatives, making them easier to understand and put on the ballot?

  • Should the charter prohibit using eminent domain for private development?

    Charter review commissioners will accept answers to these questions and other comments - even those about taxes and referendums - at meetings on May 21 in Sequim, June 4 in Port Angeles and June 18 in Forks,

    For more information about the Charter Review Commission, minutes of its meetings and an e-mail link, visit the county commissioners' office in the Clallam County Courthouse or go to

    Click on the "Charter Review Commission" link in the "Current Issues" list in the upper right corner of the Web page.

    Reporter Jim Casey can be reached at 360-417-3538 or at



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